When you have a criminal record, it no doubt weighs heavily on you when you apply for a job. You’d be wondering: Should I tell them? Won’t they write me off straightaway? How do I explain that gap in my work history? What if they ask for a Police Check?
Fear of exposure is a normal trait for all people, says Carey Ewing, Reintegration Manager at New Zealand’s Pathway service – and it’s enhanced when you have a record.
But the best way to deal with your record, Ewing and other experts say, is to be honest. A criminal record doesn’t have to be a barrier to employment.
Employers don’t need perfect records
Employers’ key aims in the hiring process are usually to find someone who can do the job well, turn up on time and fit into the team, says Ewing. Many employers are willing to overlook errors you made years ago, he explains, as long as you can do what they need and they understand that you have changed.
Ruth Oakden, who works with Toll Group’s Second Step program, counsels candidates to “get on the front foot” and be ready to explain their circumstances to prospective employers.
To reassure an employer, Oakden and Ewing suggest you should concentrate on explaining how you have changed, rather than the details of your offence. Focus on what you learnt from the experience, the changes you have made to your life and how you gained the capabilities that now make you a good hire.
Before you approach an employer, think about whether they would have concerns about your conviction. If you have a fraud conviction, for instance, it’s best to avoid applying for jobs that involve handling money.
Convictions are never wiped. However, after 10 years (in Australia) or seven years (in New Zealand), many convictions can be ‘spent’. Generally they will not appear on a Police clearance, you have the right not to tell someone about your convictions, and it is an offence for an employer to take those convictions into account. In these circumstances, the conviction no longer exists for the purposes of employment.
However, you will still need to disclose your convictions in a few exceptional situations – notably, when you are being assessed to work with children, and when law enforcement or national security agencies are assessing you. Some states have other special rules, too – for instance, for certain sex offences.
Ewing notes that potential employees gain credibility from being honest. It’s generally best to disclose any convictions that are not spent – many employers will ask you to authorise a criminal record check anyway. Once you have disclosed, you won’t need to worry that your convictions will be discovered later, and you will have built some trust.
“We live in a world of freely available information,” says Oakden. If you don’t disclose, she says, “you will be working under the cloud of ‘I hope they don’t discover me’ forever. To lie is hardly a useful way to start your relationship with an employer.”
Show responsibility and capability
Once you’ve made a potential employer aware of your record, you’ll need to make your case for why you are a good hire today.
Whether you are running for President or asking an employer for a job, it’s important to show that you’re not going to make the same mistake again. Your work history since the offence, testimonials and LinkedIn recommendations, evidence of support from friends and family, even work at a community sports club can be used to show you are a responsible and capable candidate.
Oakden favours George W. Bush’s approach to addressing his youthful mistakes, which included an unspecified amount of drug use: “When I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible. I changed when I married my wife and I changed when I had children.” This simple statement, short on detail but long on regret, helped Bush convince 50 million Americans to elect him as President. The same approach can help an employer hire you.
TEMPLATE: How to communicate your criminal record
Here are some words you can adapt to help explain your criminal history in a conversation with an employer.
[X] years ago, I served a three-month prison sentence. I learned important lessons from that experience:
● Lesson 1
● Lesson 2
● Lesson 3
After that, I changed my life in a couple of ways:
● Change 1
● Change 2
Adapt this statement for your own situation. This is a tough issue to talk about, so practise until you can say it confidently. (It’s not recommended to put such statements in a document like your application.)
You may not have to disclose a record
When the employer doesn’t ask you to disclose your record, you probably don’t have to. This is especially true if your conviction isn’t relevant to the job you’re applying for. For instance, if you were convicted of drink driving 25 years ago and you’re applying for an office job, you probably have no duty to reveal the conviction. However, the degree to which you should disclose depends on the job. For instance, if you’re applying for a security officer role, for example, you need to disclose offences such as possession of marijuana.
Checks must be job-relevant
When an employer asks you to consent to a Police Check, anti-discrimination and privacy laws say the check legally needs to be relevant to your job. Also, the employer can’t get the check without your consent.
Consider consenting to a Police Check if you are asked, and don’t assume that a criminal record check means you can’t be hired.
A number of specialist services around Australia and New Zealand help people with criminal records to get jobs:
● ACSO (Victoria) +61 3 9413 7000
● Communicare (WA) +61 8 9251 5777
● Community Restorative Centre (NSW) +61 2 9288 8700
● Employment Plus (from within Australia) 136 123
● Pathway (New Zealand) +64 3 982 1952